Today I will praise Jean Vigo, the great poet of the screen, the author of Zero for Conduct. Here is a man whose each frame was inspired, each scene, each idea. Every image of Zero for Conduct bears the imprint of an inspired imagination and the temperament of a genius.
What can I say to you about this film? Tell you that it is a masterpiece? Or that Vigo sings as no one else has ever sung about childhood and school days? Zero for Conduct is an autobiographical poem, a pedagogical satire, a psychological tract, a memory of childhood, and an act of rebellion.
And why is it that all great art is so simple, so direct, so unmistakably true, so unmistakably great, without any complicated plots, meanings? One thing about the Zero for Conduct plot: instead of adhereing to a surface scheme, it follows an unpredictable inner logic. Vigo reaches straight into the most personal experiences, memories, images. Vigo shoots straight into the bullseye, as only a great artist—a genius—can. He sings with images that are so simple but that tremble nevertheless with a tremendous inner force and are open to as many interpretations as there are human memories, childhoods.
Those faces of children in Zero for Conduct! In no other film have I seen faces like these. Those eyes, those motions, those smiles, those countenances, always ready for mischief. None of the sweet faces that we usually see in films about children. Even the boy in L’Atalante—how alive he is, his characterizations, his sitting, his standing. Vigo’s children are young animals. The children of Shoeshine or even The 400 Blows are sweet little puppies compared with the children of Vigo. I grew up with the children of Vigo; I recognize every one of them.
Just imagine: the New York State Eduction Department wanted to cut out chunks of Zero for Conduct, afraid of the naked behinds of little children. Only the persistence of the Bleecker Street people saved Vigo’s film from those mad scissors. What ignorance! What confounded arrogance! Okay, we don’t give a damn about our living artists, but hell, shouldn’t we pay some respect to our dead artists? If chopping Vigo is education, then our state education is run by morons and schlemiels.
- Jonas Mekas, Village Voice, March 29, 1962
On Saturday, Sam Lewitt will introduce a double bill of Zero for Conduct and Abbas Kiarostami’s Homework at Light Industry.
"Margaret Tait. Sweet old Scottish lady who made quaint little films all her life which are interesting to look at now because - look! that’s Princes St, Edinburgh! in the 1950s!, and that’s Rose St! it hasn’t changed! and isn’t it good to have archive film of a rural life that’s disappearing, that’s almost totally disappeared now, in her films about Orkney, and it’s so nice that she made little books of her poetry and stories and published them herself, she was such a creative soul, how sweet and interesting.
Margaret Tait. Remarkable critical forerunner, in her poetry which has, scandalously, been totally critically ignored. But now a recognisable Scottish literary voice, one that took another ten to twenty years after her own publications to come to the fore. Now credited with kickstarting the late 20th century renaissance in Scottish writing, like Liz Lochhead’s, Alasdair Gray’s.
A writer whose openness of mind, voice and structure all come from the Beats maybe, and Whitman crossed with MacDiarmid, but then cut their own original (and crucially female) path. A unique and underrated filmmaker, nobody like her. Born of the Italian neo-realists, formed of her own Scottish pragmatism, optimism, generosity and experimental spirit, and a clear forerunner of the English experimental directors of the late 20th century. A clear example of, and pioneer of, the poetic tradition, the experimental tradition, the democratic tradition, in the best of risk-taking Scottish cinema.” - Ali Smith on Margaret Tait
We’re screening five of Tait’s films on Tuesday.